Sordid Lives opened in May of last year on two screens. Since that time, with only a hundred or so theaters added, the white trash, low-budget sass-fest has grossed more than $800,000 and is now officially considered a "cult" film—which is what you call a movie to which hired shuttles scoop up eager filmgoers to transport them, every weekend, together, in Palm Springs, to a theater so for the umpteenth time they may mimic lines to a crystalline screen about fried chicken, quitting smoking and telling off nasty therapists while sporting your best Tammy Wynette frock and flip.
Yes, Sordid Lives is one of those extremely cheap Southern comedies—not filled with sitcom-style setups and punch lines, but with realistic rural monstrosities. Monstrosities you like, however. Unlike the king of trash cinema, John Waters, whose characters are often repulsive (but kinda funny) and cruel (but kinda cool), writer/director/producer Del Shores has created a plethora of folks you really dig, in spite of their bad taste and limited scope. They're fat, they smoke while they eat, their jeans flash you the camel toe, they hang out at bars in the middle of the day, and their yards are filled with old, non-working kitchen appliances and bright, plastic baby toys. They're a bunch of white women with names you forgot were white: LaVonda, Noleta, Latrelle. And they're funny as hell.
But while they are mostly hysterical, they are not mostly original and could easily have become as side-show sickening as Jerry Springer's guest list. That's where Shores triumphed. While Waters took whomever he found disgusting—whether they could act or not—and placed them before us in horrific glory, Shores snagged some pretty decent talent to imbue his kitschy characters. With the exception of the bleeding-from-your-eyes-and-ears boring monologues by baby-faced gay son Ty (Kirk Gieger) about coming out, it's a catty woman's show, and these gals remind you who drag queens spend their time ripping off—over-the-top women with a damn big ax to grind.
Golden Globe and Emmy nominee Bonnie Bedilia as stuffy, proper Latrelle, mother of Ty, and Emmy nominee Delta Burke (looking almost slender) as the jilted Noleta bent on revenge lead the "names" side of the cast along with a super slumming Beau Bridges. But it's the faces we don't readily recognize that truly shine: the gut-busting, put-upon Sissy (Beth Grant); the balls-out LaVonda (Ann Walker); and the positively loveable Tammy Wynette drag queen Baby Brother (Leslie Jordon) are a laugh riot, especially Grant's send up of her Pavlov's quit-smoking-by-snapping-a-rubberband-on-your-wrist routine.
And it's a treat to see tidbits by Olivia Newton-John as Bitsey Mae doing her best Melissa Etheridge come Joan Jett on Hee Haw.
But not everyone loves Sordid Lives. While the Designing Women faithful (like my straight mother and her straight husband and, like, all those other straight, old people) may crowd to see Burke and the homos and lesbos who honestly love Newton-John, pine for her every appearance on celluloid or other media, these groupies are countered with some scathing reviews: "The laughs come in all the wrong places when they come at all" (Wesley Morris, San Francisco Chronicle); "Shrill and punishingly unfunny" (David Hunter, The Hollywood Reporter); "Life's too short to sit through a mess . . . like Sordid Lives" (Jane Sumner, The Dallas Morning News). Yeouch.
Sure, sure, there are a lot of dead moments in Sordid Lives with characters you don't like, the story sometimes takes bizarre and unnecessary turns, the production values suck, and getting wrapped on your knuckles might be a scant better than seeing Dr. Eve Bolyn's (Rosemary Alexander) nightmare breast job being lurched at teeny Baby Brother (Leslie Jordan) during a therapy session to turn him straight. And, yes, the whole "let's love people for who they are, not what they do in their bedroom" theme makes even gay audiences want to vomit nowadays. But when the gutsy gals get sittin' around dishing dirt and preparing for their aged mother's funeral (she died tripping over Noleta's husband's wooden legs when the two had an affair at a local motel), the spot-on comedic timing and side glances delivered by this mostly premo cast make all the other crud worth the senior/student admission. Now, if we only had Divine . . . or Polly Holiday.
SORDID LIVES WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DEL SHORES; AND STARS BONNIE BEDILIA, DELTA BURKE, BEAU BRIDGES, KIRK GIEGER AND LESLIE JORDAN. NOW PLAYING AT THE LIDO THEATER, NEWPORT BEACH, TO BENEFIT LAGUNA SHANTI. SUN., 11 A.M. $10; $25 FOR SCREENING AND RECEPTION FEATURING SHORES, JORDAN AND PRODUCER SHARON LANE.
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